On the Move
One line I remember from the many years I spent listening to radio comedy was this:
“You know I think the world of you . . . And you know what everybody thinks of the world these days.”
Be that as it may, we can probably agree that, if anything is certain about what we call the World, it is the concept of Motion. Nothing stays still in it for very long. In historical terms, it wasn’t until quite recently that we first had “moving pictures” and self-propelled vehicles. But people have always been on the move, even if they had to use the mobility-power of animals.
Why all this shuffling about from place to place? Usually there has been some kind of attraction, emanating from Elsewhere – or the motivating force has been in the rear – some manifestation of fear or shortage or threat. But there’s been so much of this sort of thing that poets and song writers have been hard-put to find images of stability.
Naturally rocks, particularly big, imposing ones, have frequently lent themselves to this kind of comparison, even though we are proverbially assured that a rolling stone gathers no moss – although this inevitably raises the question of why such an object should ever want to gather moss in the first place (or even in the second or third places).
But for many generations, one of the most popular symbols of stability has been the Rock of Gibraltar, so widely known that it has been adopted, since the 1890s, by the Prudential Insurance Company as its own icon, and may (who knows?) be one reason why Britain has clung so unswervingly to possession of that isolated outpost, when almost all other vestiges of its far-flung Empire have found their own ways out of it.
Nevertheless, we still have songs such as the one asserting:
“In time the Rockies may crumble
Gibraltar may tumble – They’re only made of clay
But Our love is here to stay.”
– to which, one can only reply, “Tell that to the Divorce Court Judge.”
Everyone who sails from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean has to go past that famous “Rock,” through the Strait named after it, and one phenomenon to which I can testify is that, no matter how rough the Atlantic crossing may have been, there is comparatively a pleasant calmness, once you have entered the “Med.” (This inspired me to write a song entitled “Atlantic No! Mediterranean Si!”)
None of this prevents themes of travel and migration from being classic elements in much of our literature. One striking example is to be found in John Steinbeck’s novel (and subsequent movie) The Grapes of Wrath, with its unforgettable images of families forced out of their “dust bowl” homes in Oklahoma during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and moving westward toward the enticing “promised land” of California. (The “promises” were mostly of well-paid farm work, which, because of the consequent influx of aspiring workers, turned out to be bogus.)
I myself, only a generation later, was in a way part of this Great Migration, though in my case it wasn’t half a continent, but a whole one – to say nothing of the Atlantic Ocean – which I had to cross, in moving from austerity-ridden, still bomb-wrecked, postwar England to the prosperous West Coast of America – where I have been living peacefully, if not particularly prosperously, ever since.
But, in my own way, I re-lived the experience of being lured by false hopes of good jobs. In my case, it was teaching jobs, which, I’d been told were freely available to people like me with a new British University B.A. It turned out that those jobs also required a California teaching “Credential,” which needed actually going back to school for another year – followed by dismal months of traipsing about the state being interviewed by school administrators, who weren’t necessarily looking for “outsiders” to teach their children. One interviewer’s report stated that I had a “foreign” (meaning an English) accent.
I finished up actually teaching English in Hollywood High School, where, however, it soon became apparent that I hadn’t yet found my vocation – which sent me back seeking higher degrees, and ultimately having to carve out a new career as a professional writer of epigrams – of which it may not surprise you that many are about moving. I’ll leave you with this sample:
“You’ll never get anywhere else, if you don’t leave where you are now.”